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Wednesday, 11 March 2015

G-d of Vengeance or Love?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 37

“We preach a different kind of G-d than the old-time biblical version,” a non-Orthodox colleague recently told me.  “The G-d of the Bible was a G-d of vengeance and exclusivity.  We believe that G-d’s message today is one of love and acceptance of all His creatures.”

Was the G-d of the Bible a mean G-d?  Does G-d not love all His creatures?  Can G-d change? 

The Beraisa states: How do we know that death by the sword is carried out at the neck?  For the Torah declares, “And you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst,” which links all murders to the decapitated calf.  Just like there, the calf is killed at the neck, so too are murderers put to death at the neck.
The Gemara asks: Perhaps we should imply that just like there, an axe is used at the back of the neck, so too here, an axe should be used at the back of the neck?
Rabbi Nachman quotes Rabbah bar Avuha: The Torah declares, “Love your neighbour like yourself,” which means you must choose the kindest form of death for him. 

G-d does not change.  G-d loves all His creatures.   But as loving Parent, He has rules and disciplinary measures.  The father or mother who just lets their child have whatever they want is going to be a total failure as a parent.

‘Sure honey, go ahead, have more candy for dinner.  Sure honey, stay up as late as you like, you don’t have to go to school tomorrow if you don’t feel like it.  Sure honey, try some of my whiskey. . .’

You wouldn’t dream of using those parenting methods or lack thereof, so why would you think G-d doesn’t care how His children behave?  Now, does that mean He doesn’t love all His children?  Of course He does.  Just like a parent’s love will endure for their child no matter what they do, G-d loves His children whether or not they listen to him.  But that doesn’t mean that He is not terribly pained when He watches them act contrary to His will.

And so sometimes, discipline is called for.  One such discipline is capital punishment.  But listen to the incredible words of the Talmud: ‘Love your neighbour like yourself’ means that capital punishment must be executed in the kindest way possible.  In other words, even when G-d is meting out His disciplinary measures, He is doing so with absolute love and so must we! 

Similarly, when you discipline your children, it must come from a place of total love.  If you can’t stop at any moment and give a huge kiss and hug to your child, it means you’re on the wrong track and you must stop what you’re doing.  If you’re acting out of rage instead of love, you’re out of line as a parent. 

Likewise, when you criticise or chastise your neighbour: if you can’t imagine giving them a hug at that moment, you are not acting in a G-dly manner, it is your yetzer hara (bad inclination) talking.  Maybe it’s a politician or a news anchor that you take issue with.  If you couldn’t imagine yourself flinging your arms around them in brotherly love, you are out of step with the Almighty.  Even the worst sinner – the one with blood on his hands – we are enjoined to treat as ourselves and be as kind as we can to them.  How much more so, someone with whom you simply have a disagreement of opinion!

G-d loves His children immeasurably.  An important aspect of love is discipline.  May you merit always chastising with a hug and disciplining and disagreeing with abundant loving-kindness!